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Stony Brook softball hopes to bounce back at Charleston

The Stony Brook softball team huddles outside of the dugout between innings against Campbell on Saturday, March 8. The Seawolves will face Charleston this weekend for their second conference series of the year. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After getting off to a winless start in Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) play, the Stony Brook softball team needs to have a good weekend to avoid what happened last year.

The Seawolves (8-9, 0-3 CAA) will head down to South Carolina to take on the Charleston Cougars (7-14, 1-2 CAA) this weekend. The series will begin with a 5 p.m. matchup on Friday before a 1 p.m. game on Saturday and noon start on Sunday.

With the rough weekend behind it, Stony Brook will need to regroup against a Charleston squad that trumps it in most statistical categories.

The Cougars’ pitching staff holds the upper hand with a 3.88 earned run average (ERA), which ranks sixth in the CAA. They have mainly relied on a pair of right-handed starting pitchers: Payton Lemire and McKenna Kelly.

Lemire enters this series with the seventh-most innings pitched (57) in the conference and owns a 3.07 ERA. Her five complete games tie her for third most in the league. She is stingy on opposing hitters, as she has held them to just a .242 batting average. Kelly can more than hold her own, as she has pitched to a 3.25 ERA across the ninth-most innings (51 ⅔) in the CAA.

Another arm who may get some time in the circle this weekend is starting pitcher Ryley Kutter, who has started in three of her six appearances. She has not pitched well, as she owns a 7.00 ERA and a .375 batting average against in 16 innings. However, she has pitched in five games already this month.

Charleston head coach Tracey Lynch may opt to give starting pitcher Caroline Conner another look, as she has started in three of her five games but has not appeared since Feb. 24. The 2023 CAA All-Rookie Team selection has pitched to a 5.86 ERA in 14 ⅓ innings and owns the best strikeouts per seven innings (5.9) on the team.

The Cougars’ arms get themselves into trouble with walks. Their 3.8 walks per seven innings as a staff is the third-worst rate in the CAA. They do not overpower many hitters, as they only strike out 2.8 per seven innings. However, their elite defense makes up for it, as their .968 fielding percentage is the third-best figure in the conference.

The Seawolves’ offense could use some of those free passes, as they are in a deep rut right now. Their .214 batting average is the worst rate out of 12 teams in the CAA and their .299 on-base percentage is second lowest.

Right now, left fielder Catherine Anne Kupinski headlines Stony Brook’s bats. Her .292 batting average, .500 slugging percentage and .858 on-base plus slugging (OPS) all lead the team, while her .358 on-base percentage is second. Her three home runs, 13 runs batted in (RBI) and 10 runs scored all pace the lineup, as well.

The Seawolves will look to shortstop Kyra McFarland and center fielder Alicia Orosco to set the table. The two have swapped places in the lineup due to Orosco’s struggles, as the former leadoff hitter is batting just .178 this year. She was demoted to the two hole while McFarland was given the leadoff spot. However, Orosco batted ninth on Sunday against Campbell.

McFarland is off to a good start with a team-leading 15 hits and a .283 batting average, which only trails Kupinski.

As far as run production goes, right fielder Alyssa Costello and catcher Corinne Badger do much of the heavy lifting in the middle of Stony Brook’s lineup.

Costello — the two-time batting champion across two conferences — is having a down year by her standards but is still hitting .280. She leads the team with three doubles, four extra-base hits and seven RBIs while ranking second with nine runs scored. She co-leads the team with three stolen bases alongside McFarland and Orosco.

Badger has been nagged by a hamstring injury but will likely play this weekend. She is just 3-for-23 this year (.130), but she has hit two home runs and a triple while collecting six RBIs. She has drawn six walks and been hit by two pitches, which have helped her compile a .355 on-base percentage and an .833 OPS.

Left fielder Julianna Sanzone — who will likely be used as a designated player — and second baseman Naiah Ackerman have not swung the bat well, batting .167 and .189, respectively. While they have struggled to find their hits, Sanzone’s two home runs and seven RBIs are tied for second and third on the team, respectively, while Ackerman has driven in five runs.

If the Seawolves’ bats cannot get it going, they are going to need their arms to keep them in it. They have struggled to find consistency in the circle, owning a 4.52 team ERA, which is the fourth-worst figure in the CAA.

Starting pitcher Gabrielle Maday has gotten the most starts of any Stony Brook pitcher with seven, and has pitched to a team-leading 4.27 ERA and a 1.41 walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP). Though starting pitcher Mia Haynes got the ball to start the opener, she has struggled in the early going of this year. However, she leads the team with a .268 batting average against and has lowered her ERA to 4.69 in 37 ⅓ innings with a pair of good outings last weekend. Her 25 strikeouts lead the team and her 1.50 WHIP ranks second behind Maday.

Starting pitcher Ashton Melaas has helped head coach Megan Bryant as both a starter and a reliever. While her 1.70 WHIP is the highest on the Seawolves, her 4.30 ERA is just narrowly edged out by Maday for the team lead. She also leads the team with two saves.

Charleston’s offense ranks fifth in the CAA with a .247 team batting average. Center fielder Kaytlin Stacey leads the way with a .298 batting average from the bottom of the order and is third on the squad with nine RBIs. Catcher Shealyn Starks is batting .290 while leading her team with 20 hits.

Shortstop Brooke Marquez has been a productive bat in the two spot with a .286 batting average and a team-best 13 runs scored. Marquez has stolen six bases in seven tries. Left fielder Halle Cannon is the team’s best run producer, as she has tallied 13 RBIs thus far. Cannon is batting .283 with a team-leading .375 on-base percentage.

The Cougars have other productive bats, as well. Backup catcher Savannah Lockhart is mostly used as a designated player and pinch hitter, but she plays the role well with a .273 batting average and a team-leading .409 slugging percentage. Lockhart has one of their three home runs this year.

Second baseman Aniz Roman is batting just .242 thus far but leads them with four doubles and owns a .338 on-base percentage. Roman’s on-base ability has allowed her to score 12 runs this year: the second most on the team. Right fielder Mia Dittoe is only hitting .200 right now but is third on the team with 10 runs scored.

Charleston has run a platoon at third base with Karlee Hughes and Malaka Belser. Hughes was a 2023 CAA All-Rookie Team selection and is batting .294 with an .841 OPS. She leads the team and is tied for 10th in the league with seven stolen bases. However, she has only played seven games, as she was injured and missed all of February. In her place, Belser has struggled to a .193 batting average, but she leads the team with 13 walks, co-leads it with two hit-by-pitches and is second with 12 RBIs. She owns a .351 on-base percentage.

In what will be a rematch of the opening round from the 2023 CAA softball tournament, the Seawolves will hope history repeats itself.

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